Excavating The Buried Layers Of The Past

Well after two writing sessions in my new “writing office” (a.k.a. the 0700 Thameslink train from Brighton) I can report that it’s pretty much like my last one, save for having a nicer set of views out of the window. (As an aside, when I get a chance, I’ll put up the profile that Writers Forum did of my last “writing office”).

We’re happily settled in to Brighton, and at some point I’ll put up some pictures of our new home town. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been very worthwhile. Sorting out your stuff while moving feels a lot like archeology: you work your way down through the various periods of your life (the old house, the flat before that, the family home) until somewhere along the way you hit the life equivalent of solid rock – your birth certificate. (Although in my case said birth certificate was immediately on top of a bunch of stuff only a couple of years old. I have no idea how that happened.)

But along the way I uncovered some interesting nuggets from the past. Most of them are now in the many boxes still scattered around the house, and may well surface over the next few weeks. But when I found a D&D character sheet dating from the early 1980s, I thought that was worth scanning there and then, before packing it away.

Why did it interest me so? Well there’s a lot of talk nowadays about “old school roleplaying”, the emphasis of which is usually on recreating the feel of old-style Dungeons & Dragons. Some people play the early forms of game, no-doubt clutching dog-eared twenty-something year old rule books. A group of enthusiasts have created OSRIC, a modern, open clone of the original AD&D 1st Edition rules. And then there’s Castles & Crusades, a stripped down version of 3rd Edition D&D that aims to capture the feel of early 1980s Basic D&D, but with a modern and coherent structure.

But what is it about “old-school roleplaying” that so interests people? After all, by comparison with modern systems such as 4th Edition D&D, older games are inconsistent, incomplete and full of holes. But the proponents of old-school roleplaying argue that it is precisely this looser rules structure that makes them better games to play. A loose rules set which covers only basic, standard actions allows the participants to “free-form” through everything else, producing a rich roleplaying experience that supposedly makes modern rules systems look like a mere board wargame.

But is this true, or are we looking through rose-tinted spectacles when we look at the past? Were our Basic D&D games of the early 1980s really the rich, roleplaying and storytelling experience that the proponents of old-school roleplaying claim?

Which is where my character sheet comes in. Finding it gave me a chance to answer this question. What depth of roleplaying had my 14 year old self come up with when blessed with a loose and free-flowing system? What stories was I telling? What dreams did I dream? Did I have something then that I’ve lost now?

Erm… No. Look at the character sheet to the right. Yes, I present you with: “Hero Heroic the Hero” with his character mottos of: “Hero woz ere” and “Hero rules”.

I have no recollection of this character, although it’s clearly mine, not because it has my name on it (my so-called friends delighted in writing my name on things – books, walls, examination tables), but because I found it in my house and I’m afraid that scrawl really is my writing. I guess there are things in life so terrible (and let’s face it, creating a character called “Hero Heroic the Hero” is seriously terrible) that you either make damn sure to not remember them in the first place, or else plant them so deeply into your memory that only severe trauma or intensive therapy will ever break through the wall that exists between them and you.

I think perhaps that some boxes of old junk and crap are best left unopened.

Hero Heroic the Hero. Dear God. I know I was only 14, but what was I thinking?

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